37. Dexter

Creator: James Manos Jr.
Years: 2006-2013

Everyone’s favorite serial killer is my 37th favorite show.

Dexter is a peculiar show that is great at different points for different reasons, and bad at different times for different reasons. During seasons one and two, it is mostly enthralling because it is fresh. Dexter is cool. You struggle with rooting for a psychopath to get away with things because he only tries to kill people who “deserve” it and because the writers do a bang up job at helping us empathize with him by constantly feeding us his good qualities and people who care about him. Seasons three and four are good because Dexter begins to develop a bit as a character as he enters into marriage and fatherhood. Also he gets his best two villians in Jimmy Smits and John Lithgow. Season 4 is near universally regarded as the best season and I don’t disagree. The final episode is one of the most chilling moments in television history. I had a strong compulsion to wake up my son and hug him after watching it. Seasons five and six are not as strong, but are watchable because Jennifer Carpenter finally begins to develop her acting chops and the writers make her character strong and genuinely interesting. And Colin Hanks/Edward James Olmos is a surprisingly effective two-headed monster.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember a long string of great episodes with the possible exception of season four. There are just too many nagging problems with the show that are hard to forgive. Despite how careful Dexter appears to be, he is terribly careless most of the time and it requires extraordinary suspension of disbelief to buy that he could get away with what he’s doing for as long as he does it. Thus, it requires the writers to make not only his coworkers incompetent but his sister and wife terribly naive. The one character who is persistently and appropriately creeped out by Dexter is killed off early on in the show’s run, and it’s several more seasons before anyone around him really suspects him, and then that person is conveniently killed off as well. The ways in which Dexter avoids a life in prison become more preposterous as things go along.

Logistics aside, there are other issues. Dexter’s dead father plays a pivotal role in the first season in the form of flashbacks, but then becomes a nagging angel over his shoulder after that, which is never not awkward. At no point do all of the actors appear to be completely gelling together. Carpenter is terrible for the first half of the show, especially the first season or two. Doakes is a caricature of the angry black man. As soon as we finally learn enough about him to empathize with him, he’s gone. Doakes’ replacement, Quinn, is so anticlimactic that his entire six season run on the show is pointless. He’s not interesting enough or integral enough to matter, yet he’s always around and always kind of annoying, used mostly when they need a plot device. Masuka is the funny man, but since he never grows (except barely in the final couple seasons), his jokes become tiresome. And I really, really dislike Hannah, Dexter’s lover/nemesis during the final two seasons. She represents a step back for Dexter’s character and her story arc is manipulative and unsatisfying.

And don’t get me started on the completely out-of-nowhere incestual themes.

All that said, I did watch every episode (though to be honest the final two seasons was just inertia). There’s some pretty thrilling scenes in addition to the interesting day-to-day problems Dexter faces as a serial killer. In the first half of the series there are some moments where Dexter shows small glimpses of empathy, and usually they are emotionally powerful scenes. Every episode is even good for a laugh or two, including one hilarious scene in season 5 where Dexter has to stage one of his victims in a homosexual sexcapade gone wrong. I’m glad I watched it, though I can’t see myself ever doing so again.

Oh, and the ending suh-hucks.

4 thoughts on “37. Dexter”

  1. I always had intentions to watch this, but never did. Then everyone kept taking me that everything feel apart about halfway through, and I started caring less. Though, if the first few seasons are good, should I just maybe watch those and skip the rest?

    Then the finale came along, and good God does that sound horrible. A friend of mine was agonizing going into it, knowing that they weren’t going to stick the landing, and he said that it was much worse than he was even anticipating.

    1. If you do watch it, you could certainly stop after season four. Five and six are good enough. Then for the love of all that is holy, stop. The climax/cliffhanger of season six is actually pretty good. It would be a decent way to end the whole series.

  2. I agree with basically everything you said here, except for the fact that I bailed after…I don’t know? Partway through six? Seven? I could see where this was headed, and then found out that it was headed somewhere even worse. Lithgow and Olmos/Hanks make for great villains, and the Smits season worked excellently too. The girl from season two is probably a bit underrated, but I think that’s because it’s less about her and more about Dexter and Rita. Oh, and the villain in the first season. The show really does work for a while, despite the subplots that always feel tacked on for the sake of variety.

    The way this show ends makes me actively angry, so I doubt I’ll finish it. And Quinn for Doakes…guh. I really liked Doakes by the end, although it’s clear where the story has to end. Quinn brings nothing.

    Carpenter’s growth as an actor is the most surprising thing I’ve seen during the course of a show.

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